OpenOffice at 2.0: Still going strong
After years of waiting by its supporters, the OpenOffice.org suite has finally hit the magic version 2.0. Designed as a drop-in replacement for Microsoft Office, OpenOffice.org provides a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation tools, and drawing program. New in version 2.0 is a database to let you create simple applications and data-entry forms, similar to Microsoft’s Access database. The 2.0 version also supports the OpenDocument format, or ODF, described in this space last month.
The main changes, though, come in the form of dramatic performance and usability improvements. The 2.0 release is truly far better than the older 1.x releases.
Available at www.openoffice.org, the office suite runs on a variety of platforms, including Linux and Windows. (The funny .org at the end of the name exists because another organization owns the trademark on OpenOffice.) The office suite runs on Mac OS X as well, but as of now requires you to run the X Window System, X11.app.
I prefer a variant called NeoOffice/J, which combines the OpenOffice.org suite with a nice Macintosh user interface.
The cross-platform support is really handy, and it can help your organization migrate to Linux. For example, you can migrate all your Windows users from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice.org, remaining on Windows. Later, you can migrate users to Linux. This gives you more efficient support for older PCs, as well as freedom from the constant spate of malware attacking Windows systems. Linux isn’t perfect, but it starts from a more secure base than Windows.
The main OpenOffice.org applications–Writer, Calc, and Impress–work as well as if not better than Microsoft’s Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. With the 2.0 release, the always-important compatibility with Microsoft’s file formats has been improved by quite a bit.
Furthermore, you should be able to load up very complicated documents that were originally created with Microsoft Office. That wasn’t always true in the past, especially with complicated PowerPoint presentations. OpenOffice.org Draw adds on vector-drawing capabilities and OpenOffice.org Base provides a more solid foundation for your data than Access.
You may still experience problems with certain documents, though. Even so, if you have tried OpenOffice.org in the past and rejected it, the suite is worth a second look at the 2.0 release.
As with Microsoft Office, the OpenOffice.org suite includes a version of the BASIC programming language, specially tailored for writing add-ons to the office suite. This is very similar to Microsoft’s Visual Basic for Applications, or VBA. OpenOffice.org includes a complete development environment built into the suite.
To aid usability, the entire OpenOffice.org suite includes a number of small enhancements. It should now be easier than in previous releases for users to migrate from Microsoft’s products. General usage of OpenOffice.org features is better as well.
The OpenOffice.org suite is free. In addition, you can download and work with the suite’s source code. OpenOffice.org is available under the LGPL license.
StarOffice, a commercialized version of the OpenOffice.org suite, might be worth a look if your organization wants product support. For example, many companies would prefer to purchase support rather than use a free tool. Now at version 8, StarOffice comes from Sun, which purchased the original product before making the the source code available for free. StarOffice includes a number of features beyond that of the OpenOffice.org suite. In addition, it has enterprise-level support from Sun Microsystems. –Eric Foster-Johnson